Update: I Made It!

The drafts section of this blog was such a pleasant place to come to, when I needed to vent in the early days of MBBS. To think I’d forgotten all about this blog’s existence over the years. It’s amazing the things your COVID-lockdown-brain can spur you on to do.

Writing in after nearly 6 years, to say that all did go well, and I made it to the other side in pretty good shape! I’m getting things ready so I may join a postgraduate residency program, hopefully not too long from now 🤞🏼

Seems surreal to even try to reflect upon everything that happened along the way. So many years, so many people, and oh so many experiences. All worth their tangible and intangible weight in gold.

I thought perhaps I could try listing a brief summary of events that stand out. Use them as inspiration for more posts, and as broad ideas that you can pick from if you’d like me to address anything in particular.

  • Academics : approach, recommendations, focus areas
  • Research : ICMR’s STS, unaided ideas
  • Mentors : what I sought, helpful input
  • Stressors : identifying them, demolishing them!
  • Student Life : college fests, activities and getaways
  • Co-Curriculars : organising events, networking, quizzes and other fun stuff
  • Volunteering : social endeavours with NGOs
  • PG! : broad overview of options, priorities
  • USMLE : the whats, hows and whens of it all

I’m looking to document my perspectives (back then and now, with the benefit of hindsight), as well as build up a source of information that current and future students can come back to.

A lot of it was hard won at the time, simply because there just weren’t too many reliable places to go in search of perspective or information 🤷🏻‍♀️ Time to help change that status quo!

So Unconventional Ya, So Progressive

My path to becoming an MBBS student has been unconventional, to put it mildly. Sufficiently unconventional to elicit from me a number of responses that are in stark contrast with what you’d usually expect from a freshie.

 

I come armed with a decidedly mixed, eclectic academic background. I have a rather popular Bachelor’s degree to my name. A degree that is wholly unrelated to medicine, or the sciences.

I am at an age and stage in life where I don’t particularly care to interact with yuppie 18 year olds on a daily basis, and as compatriots. I don’t mean mean to paint all 18 year olds with the same brush here. Some are indeed wiser, more mature than others, and their company does not make me feel like perhaps I ought to be mentoring them, coaching them to please just grow up! But it is undeniable that what they take away at present from college life and MBBS in particular is very different from what I do. That makes perfect sense. But it doesn’t help my case that I didn’t particularly care for the company of most 18 year olds even back when I was one.

I have, over time, built a set of principles and priorities for myself. Priorities pertaining to independence, finances, family ties and a long relationship that I continue to cherish most fiercely. Getting started with MBBS when I did forced me to reevaluate some priorities, to introduce compromises where I did not want any. It was difficult. There were times it was agonising. This move to MBBS upset unspoken plans that involved individuals other than me, and I have been extremely fortunate to have had their support anyway. I could not have predicted things would go this well.

The net result is that I had concerns that had nothing in common with students alongside whom I prepared for the slew of entrance exams.

 

It never occurred to me to consider what would happen if I didn’t crack the entrances. I simply expected that I would, despite the 4 year gap from PCB and problem sets. Those who knew of the big plan never once discussed the possibility of not getting in. It was a foregone conclusion in everyone’s mind, one I sometimes marvel at.

My concerns were different.

For one, I was extremely skeptical about my own decision to take up MBBS. Was it a knee jerk reaction, was I being rash simply because I yearned a radical change, was I being influenced by transient influencers, would my interest in this program even last the duration of 5 1/2 years? Why MBBS, and why now?

I was plagued by self doubt and undertook painful analysis of this decision and what it could mean. Some days I feel like this internal analysis will continue until the end of time. Perhaps that will make me a compassionate, “thinking + feeling” doctor – perhaps that will make me neurotic.

I needed to feel like I deserved to be here. That I deserved to be studying to work in this field. That I deserved a seat. That I deserved the overwhelming generosity and support of my family, friends and partner. Messy mind, messy times.

 

Very little about any of this has been discussed with very few current classmates. The majority might choose to consider it a grand betrayal if this continues and they find out much much later, but I can’t get myself to care about that right now. I suspect plenty will have happened by then to make my weird entry to medicine nothing more than a piece of trivia. Two seconds of fame – a gentle reminder that I could’ve sought more of it through my other UG degree!

Is This In The Textbook?

It seems silly that at least in India, you have children compete like crazy to get into med school – really, any med school – only to completely disregard what that institute has to offer.

Lectures are skipped. Lecturers are ridiculed. Proxy signatures are scribbled in a hurry and a thin ‘combined, all subject’ notebook containing only doodles is a symbol of pride. Nothing happens in desirable moderation!

Suddenly no style of lecturing is good enough. “I can read all she’s saying from any textbook, why pay attention?” Instead, drawing farm animals, inane conversations with neighbours, texting, singing aloud songs, games on smartphones, naps, all of these take precedence. And yet they show up in class so as to maintain a good attendance record.

One thing I don’t understand is how the students consider themselves entitled to the very best of all facilities, even as the professors are subjected to students at their sullen, brazen, disrespectful best. The hypocrisy is mind boggling. Is it a flaw in our society’s collective attitude towards educators, or is it something else?

You’d be wasting your time by discussing the merits of hearing and seeing content that will later be read from a textbook. Explain how this process of repetition in different ways builds up your memory of concepts. How even one interestingly phrased, insightful sentence or analogy from the lecturer in an hour-long lecture can make the difference between mugging up details and understanding them for life.

I can’t help but wonder if it’s rebellion for the sake of rebellion. Rebellion because that’s what 17 year olds think they have to do, regardless of the situation. By the time this phase ends – and here I make the cheerful assumption that it does indeed end before one’s completion of formal medical education – students are likely in no position in terms of time and seniority to be willing to understand from scratch the nature and methodology of conducting independent studies and working on research problems.

Bemoaning the sorry state of UG research won’t help fix matters. Perhaps gauging and addressing the attitude of the average student populace at the outset will.

We could certainly do with a system that attracts maturity (or even the absence of asshole-ish levels of immaturity) and assesses the authenticity of interest in the field, instead of focusing on test scores and only that.

The Inertia Of Existence: Debunked

That which takes birth must die. That which begins must end.

One could argue that this is the founding law, the very basis of Nature. The crux around which all else took form. If you’d rather do away with laws and imagine death as the point of convergence instead, you could say that the grand End is the culmination of the vortex in which all of existence is swept along. Or perhaps each entity is in a vortex of its own, and that culminates (how!) as the End of that entity. Possibilities abound, and they would make for some fascinating illustrations.

However, we’re usually so fascinated by the End and how it comes about, that we forget to study how things live. To bring in some medical parlance, Pathology beats Physiology. Dramatic and sensational beats the ongoing, the mundane hands down. But “you have to understand normal before you can identify abnormal”. That’s the 1st MBBS mantra as far as our faculty and textbooks are concerned, and it makes a whole lot of sense to me. 

If we can extend that line of thought to say that the “normal” (albeit shorter) state of existence is being alive, and that the “abnormal” is death, I must echo that studying the normal, the living state, is of paramount importance. It’s what will allow you to prolong the normal and avert the abnormal. You could make anything the subject of this study and it would be valid. That weed creeping about your garden. A pet, a friend. An emotion, your convictions. Relationships. The ruling government.

 

So do these things survive simply because they don’t die? Because nothing comes along to uproot, kill, convert or impeach them? I feel like a lot of us believe exactly that. It seems spot on, right? The Inertia of Existence. That once things take shape, they stay that way unless acted upon by an external force. After all, Newton was a very smart man, and Aristotle did get bashed a fair bit.

But perhaps there is a different system at work here. One that clicks and just seems right, at least at first glance.

Things survive because they are kept alive – not just because they are born, not just because they don’t die. There are external inputs, whether we notice them or not, whether we feel the need for them or not. These inputs check and balance activity (homeostasis!) such that you don’t pay much attention to their role. But something leads to the drying up of inputs over time. It could be lack of reserves, it could be poor timing or a stroke of bad luck, it could be sheer negligence. When the supply of these inputs dries up, the entity starts to degenerate, approaching its inevitable End. And as stupefying as it is obvious, that’s when you begin to deconstruct matters.

 

Now, of course the drying up of inputs (an external event) leads to the End. But the Living is made possible by inputs. And what I need is for us to not lose sight of that.

That weed in your garden needs its water and soil and sunlight and fresh air. That relationship with your friend or partner needs your time and concern and initiative and effort. You may see the weed as thoroughly undesirable, and you may actively consider that relationship the anchor of your existence; you may be fascinated by the weed’s unending growth spurt, and you may view that relationship as an unchanging constant – Your perception of the entity does not affect the fact that it needs something to go on.

The weed will wilt on its own if the soil around it was to turn barren. The relationship will cease to exist if you call upon each other only when to seek comfort. It was not enough for that seed to sprout open. And it never will be enough that you first shared sweet nothings many moons ago.

Suspend the belief that you get to “wait and watch” how matters proceed. Every entity, every relationship, every academic program you will ever undertake is an ongoing process – and it needs active participation from both ends to sustain, let alone flourish.

 

This may not find a respectful place in the next pathbreaking textbook on physics, but to this layman, empirical evidence suggests thus –

That which moves needs pushes to keep moving. That which exists needs something to keep it alive.

 

November? That’s It?

3 months into med school*, the one thing I can say with confidence is that it certainly doesn’t feel like only three months have gone by. Time has flown like it’s a hundred-winged bird on crack-infused steroids.

Between August 1 and November 11, amongst a gazillion other things, college-wise I’ve had time for/to –

  • A gamut of emotions before the beginning
  • A formal orientation session
  • Introductory lectures on all three subjects
  • Trip to an empty dissection hall
  • Aiding an ‘introductory session’ with seniors, one they couldn’t carry though 😐
  • The rush of getting somewhere early early morning
  • Make some kindamaybesorta-friends
  • Purchase of supplies – lots of supplies!
  • Real lectures, demonstrations, briefings, and a plethora of other “teaching-learning methodologies”
  • Trips to a decidedly full dissection hall
  • Hours in laboratories, handling slides and chemicals and needles to prick myself with
  • Weekly written tests on said hours and trips and real lectures
  • Vivas on the same, rather fun!
  • All nighters to prepare for ^ and ^^
  • Analysis of ^, ^^ and ^^^
  • Quick baths, quick naps, quicker meals
  • Ringside view of hilarious, panicky conversations on Whatsapp groups formed by classmates
  • Bunk lectures
  • Bunk a faculty-organised picnic
  • Spend break time in food places near and far, eating dabbas of people that are both close and virtually unknown
  • Harbour attendance concerns
  • Break traffic rules and commonly accepted codes of presentable appearance to make it to lectures in time for attendance
  • Realise that lectures on Community Medicine are meant to be free wheeling and a wee bit unstructured – also, no one knows where the attendance for this 3-year subject gets logged!
  • Major, childlike excitement over the one free Monday we get every month
  • Weekly hangout sessions with friends spread across the city, and with loved ones that live farther away
  • Some alcohol, and then some hangovers..
  • Share the odd secret
  • Laments of “dude we need to get a life, but now I need to go study”
  • Laments of “dude I was going to study, but I was chilling all day”, followed by serious stabs of guilt about how someone’s future life-saving doctor is busy consuming unhealthy snacks and watching funny cat gifs
  • Impulse buys, often the easiest way to be able to feel like you had some fun, but without investing too much time into the fun-having 😛
  • Taking on academic workload aside from mandatory coursework
  • Loving dissection, to the point that it can’t possibly not annoy others around me
  • Periods of completely nerding it out
  • Periods of completely bumming out
  • Ten days of an unexpectedly generous break from college
  • Feeling like that break was long overdue, because college has been crazy so far
  • Realising that this is only the beginning of crazy, gotta hold tight
  • The thrill of reading content taught months ago and being able to recall all or most of it
  • Latent panic at the thought of all that has been covered in just 3 months!
  • The sinking feeling on thinking of all I need to know for major upcoming exams…
  • A gamut of emotions at the time of writing this post

The second gamut is admittedly a little confusing. So much has been compressed into the past 3 months that I feel like I haven’t had time to process it and figure out what I actually think of it. People tend to say this about dissection and seeing cadavers for the first time – I feel this way about the entire curriculum!

As of now, I can say that I feel relaxed, dirty, lazy, a little guilty and reluctant to get back to work already. Don’t get me wrong – I’m proud of what I’ve undertaken, and of what it will allow me to do in the years to come. But right now, I’m in holiday mode and I want it to be okay to behave accordingly. Certainly long past the happy-clappy phase of “wheeeeee med school!”, I feel like that was a long long time ago.

The problem isn’t sustaining an interest in the work; getting started is the problem. Because you know that once you do get started, you’re in for a long long session of multiple reference books, models, mnemonics and flowcharts. That’s fun (which explains why I often nerd it out) but I like to harbour this illusion of how I really enjoy being a bum.

*’Med school’ courtesy evil Western influence that reaches me under the garb of innocuous television serials. So if you have a bone to pick with the usage of hipsterish ‘med school’ over ‘medical college’ as is the norm in India, go scream at 8 seasons of House MD and 10 seasons of Grey’s. I’m out of here.

Why Blog At All?

Fair question, if you ask me. I come bearing many more questions, if that sort of thing interests you.

For one, how does it matter whether or not some scraps of text float about in cyberspace, describing an experience that has been shared by tens of thousands of MBBS undergrads across hundreds of medical schools in the country, and for decades together? What new information or perspective could I possibly have to offer to a reader? And who am I to venture into existential questions after having spent 30 minutes trying to zero in on a fuss-free blog theme?

Perhaps I should just focus on the fact that I chose to spend 30 minutes on a theme for the blog 🙂

 

Altruistic as it would be to say that I’m blogging for the sake of high schoolers (and parents of said high schoolers!) who are desperate for tidbits about the MBBS program, I think I’m blogging simply to maintain an organised log.

A record I may access in the months to come, to see what I was thinking during the course of this program, how I approached things, what I actually enjoyed and what I could have done better, differently – all without pesky interference from hindsight at the time of writing. I would also like to maintain a record of nuggets of information that might just be useful to me in the future.

 

True, I might as well have written a secret diary on paper, especially seeing how I have no interest in going public with my identity on this blog. But there are two decent reasons that might just excuse the existence of this blog:

One, a diary would need a lot of paper. And going by the sheer amount of stuff college requires me to own (more on that later), I get the feeling I’m going to run out of room rather soon.

Two, having witnessed firsthand the dearth of helpful and regular blogs run by MBBS students, I figure making this ‘diary’ public won’t hurt. If anything, it might contain trivia and commentary that answer unanswered doubts for some unknown readers. I would be happy to answer specific queries as best as I can. Anonymous mentors might just be the next big thing, and I’d love to earn me some karma.